Modelling of Formation and Evolution of Defects and Precipitates in Fe-Cr Alloys of Reactor Relevance
Abstract: Fe-Cr alloys form the basis of many industrially important steels. Due to their excellent resistance to radiation induced swelling, ferritic steels are expected to be used for critical structural components in advanced nuclear systems, such as fast breeder reactors, accelerator driven systems and fusion reactors. In this thesis project, theoretical modelling of bulk properties of Fe-Cr alloys has been performed for a wide range of phenomena. Electronic structure calculations, based on density functional theory, have been used to determine equilibrium properties for different magnetic states of the alloy. Ferromagnetic alloys of low Cr concentration (<10% Cr) are anomalously stable, which is related to the variation in sign of the mixing enthalpy which was predicted for the first time in this work. This finding is in agreement with experimental evidence of long range ordering in Fe-Cr alloys with low Cr concentration, as well as the observed phase separation for compositions with higher Cr content. The character of the interaction of point defects with solute Cr atoms in an iron matrix was investigated ab initio. It was found that due to magnetic interactions, interstitial defects are bound by Cr atoms in bulk iron. Vacancies, on the other hand, interact only weakly with Cr. These results may offer qualitative explanations to the observed concentration dependence of radiation induced swelling in Fe-Cr model alloys.The ab initio predictions inspired an effort to develop an interatomic alloy potential capable of reproducing both the thermodynamic bulk behaviour of the alloy, such as the mixing enthalpy, and the point defect interactions, in order to perform large scale atomistic and stochastic simulations on scales out of reach for density functional theory. A two-band extension of the embedded atom method of interatomic potentials was developed in order to model ferromagnetic Fe-Cr alloys of arbitrary composition. Kinetic Monte-Carlo simulations of thermal aging, using this two-band potential, reproduce the experimentally measured formation and evolution of solute precipitation as a function of concentration for temperatures relevant to structural materials in nuclear reactors.
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